Sandalwood Fire in Calimesa destroys 74 mobilehomes

CAL FIRE firefighters are on the scene within minutes of Thursday’s fire call.

A rapidly spreading fire broke out in the city of Calimesa on Thursday, Oct. 10, during Santa Ana wind conditions. The devastating fire, which ultimately burned 1,011 acres, was started by a CR&R trash truck, which allegedly dumped a smoking load on Seventh Street, near a vacant field.

Riverside CAL FIRE reported the fire was 100% contained on Monday, Oct. 14.

The Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park remains uninhabitable and closed due to unsafe conditions.

Affected residents are urged to call Calimesa Emergency operations center at 795-2287, for more information.

Mesa View Middle School

The fire was in close proximity to the Mesa View Middle School campus. At no time were any students in danger or trapped in buildings. The school transported students in buses to Calimesa Elementary School.

Cassidy Melvin, 12, of Mesa View Middle School was picked up by her dad Shawn Melvin, at Mesa View, shortly after the fire started.

“There was this really thick black smoke coming from the mobilehome park and over the intercom, they told us to follow our teacher’s instruction but I was scared, shocked and worried,” she said.

Nicole Shaver has two children that attend Mesa View Middle School. She said it was a scary but overall effective evacuation, last Thursday.

“The staff at Mesa View did a wonderful job making sure my kids were safe,” Shaver said. “However, in the future, I would like that rear gate to always remain open. I would even volunteer my time to monitor the gate, if possible.”

KQLH and other help

Fire victims and the public were kept up to date with ongoing fire coverage.

Local radio station, KQLH, 92.5 FM is a locally powered radio station in the community. The Yucaipa-stationed radio station provided ongoing live coverage of the fire.

The city of Calimesa posted on social media and updated fire victims throughout the fire.

Press conference

The following day, Riverside County Fire department, in cooperation with CAL FIRE, held a press conference in Beaumont to provide an operational briefing and current status of the fire.

During the press conference Jeff Hewitt, Riverside County 5th District Supervisor and Calimesa resident said, “Today is a very difficult day for Riverside County and especially the city of Calimesa. The Sandalwood Fire has caused extensive damage to our community and tragically, someone has lost their life from the result of this fire. My heart goes out to our community, whose been displaced from the safety and comfort of their homes and thrust into a very difficult and uncomfortable time. Our thoughts are especially with the grieving family of the resident who lost their life. This morning, Riverside County and the city of Calimesa proclaimed a local emergency as a result of the devastation to the beautiful city of Calimesa. The local proclamation will support additional opportunities for resources and funding as we continue through this response. We’re all in this together.”

San Bernardino County 3rd District Supervisor Dawn Rowe also commented.

“The tragic loss of life and property in the Sandalwood Fire underscores the need to be prepared for wildfires, especially during high-wind events like we experienced last week,” said Rowe. “The multi-jurisdictional response from Calimesa Fire Department, Riverside County Fire/CAL FIRE, Redlands Fire Department, and San Bernardino County Fire Department undoubtedly reduced the spread of the fire and saved countless lives and structures. I’m grateful for the firefighters and public safety personnel who risked their lives to keep our communities safe.

Victims

Sadly, there are two reported victims of the Sandalwood Fire. The first was a resident of the mobilehome park, who died in the fire on Thursday. Lois Warren Turner Arvickson, 89, moved to Calimesa in 1939.

Marion Lovelace is Arvickson’s niece.

“The family appreciates and feels the support of the community and friends,” Lovelace said. “It’s greatly appreciated.”

The name of a second victim has not been released, as of press deadline.

Calimesa Fire officials

“A 911 call came in and when it was received it, we responded appropriately” said Captain Corey Bennin from the Calimesa Fire Department referring to the Sandalwood Fire. Origin of the fire was a normal operation. Urban interface with the wildland operations battalion chief deployed operations appropriately. There were high-winds and it got ahead of the organization and engulfed the trailer park.” When asked if he was satisfied with the way everyone worked together he said “I couldn’t be happier with unified command, Yucaipa, Calimesa, Redlands, and Riverside did volumes of support getting the results they desired.”

Water

South Mesa Water Company’s Board President George Jorritsma announced on Oct. 11 to the company’s customers and local firefighting authorities that its reservoir levels are at over 90 percent after fires erupted in Calimesa.

In an email sent to customers and on posted notifications, Jorritsma said,  “We are pleased to have sufficient supplies helping firefighters to prevent the fire from spreading in our service territory in Calimesa ...  We urge all our customers to conserve as much water as possible to assure that our supplies remain robust in light of this emergency.”

“We have instructed our General Manager, David Armstrong, to stay in touch with firefighting authorities to assure them of our ability to provide the water supplies they need to do their heroic jobs during this emergency,” said Jorritsma.

Animal concerns

On Monday, Oct. 14 at the Yucaipa City Council meeting, four residents spoke regarding their concerns on the evacuation process of large animals in the San Timoteo and Live Oak Canyons, including establishing multiple evacuation sites with safe and effective communication to direct evacuation efforts to include large animals. Those four residents echoed the same concerns.

The canyon areas have a “high large animal population due to the number of boarding facilities and private residences containing horses and other types of animals. There is not an effective and efficient method of communication established in order to organize and direct evacuation efforts,” said horse owner and local resident Dorre Yamashiro. “

“Time is of the essence in moving big animals and it helps to have efficient egress and regress through the canyon,” said resident Cindy Mendoza.

Yucaipa resident Vanessa Register said there was no clear evacuation plan in place, since the Palmer Fire in 2017.

“Two years ago I was told the city was working on an agreement with the neighboring cities/counties to come up with a plan,” said Register, who said she was told the Yucaipa Equestrian Center was not a designated evacuation site. “Two years later do we have a plan? Who executes the plan? Will the ranches know? Who will tell them?”

City Manager Ray Casey responded.

“In that particular instance the equestrian area was used for an evacuation site for large animals,” Casey said. “There were some challenges with that because of the geography in the San Timoteo Canyon a lot of agencies were involved - Riverside County, Redlands, San Bernardino County, city of Yucaipa, in the after action report and process from that fire several years ago, it was determined that another site would make for a better large animal evacuation center for the canyon. We will work with the other agencies to inform ranchers of evacuation facilities for large animals.”

LAC meeting

During the Local Assistance Center (LAC) meeting held on Oct. 15 at Norton Younglove Senior Center, Sandalwood fire victims received resources and assistance from several organizations. “A lot of these people have been through so very much in such a short period of time,” said Specialist Jose Arballo Jr from Riverside University Health System’s Senior Public Information. “It is a long process of recovering and this is just one of the many steps along the way,” said Arballo.

For the latest fire-related questions, contact PIO Corey Bennin at 951-489-9212.

Ways to donate:

Sanctuary Church

Sanctuary Church, located at 1090 Fifth St., Ste. 102A in Calimesa is taking donations for fire victims.

To donate, reach out to the offices and leave your information. monetary donations will be accepted at https://sanctuarychurch.churchcenter.com/giving/to/Sandalwood-incident-fund.

Yucaipa Family Assistance is accepting donations of household items and non-perishable food — especially blankets, bedding, outerwear and personal hygiene items. Drop them off at 35076 Ave. B, Yucaipa.

Deseret Industries

The thrift store in Calimesa is taking material donations. Drop them off at the store: 1197 Calimesa Blvd., Calimesa.

The Salvation Army

It has a fund set up for California Wildfire victims. Donate at https://www.salvationarmy-socal.org/southern-california/news/ca-wildfires.

The United Way

United Way of the Inland Valleys is taking contributions that will benefit fire victims. Donate at https://uwiv.org/sandalwood-fire.

Red Cross

People can also donate directly to the Red Cross to help victims of disasters here and nationwide. The Red Cross has been setting up evacuation centers to help people displaced by the Southern California fires, and also routinely provides assistance to people whose homes have burned down. Visit redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Family Promise and

YHS ASB to donate

Ongoing efforts are being made for the students affected by the fire.

The Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District, in partnership with Family Promise, is assisting families that are recovering from the Sandalwood Fire. 

Anyone who would like to donate, can go through Yucaipa High School Associate Student Body via this link

https://webstores.activenetwork.com/school-software/yucaipa_high_schoqq6/  or via check made payable to Family Promise and dropped off at the YCJUSD District Office 12797 Third St. Yucaipa.  If you would like to adopt a family, you can email your information to contact_us@ycjusd.us

The group is working directly with our families to determine short-term and long-term needs.  The YHS ASB and Family Promise along with other services in the community are working together to take care of the victims.  

Pet supplies and food

Yucaipa Animal Placement Society (YAPS), Daisy’s Hope Foundation, and Guardian Angel Pet Rescue, Inc. have joined forces to help our neighbors in Calimesa. YAPS is a collection and distribution site for pet supply donations. They are primarily distributing dog and cat food, bowls, leashes, litter and bedding. YAPS donated pet food, and accessories to the Calimesa Senior Center.

Donations have been made possible by YAPS, Daisy’s Hope Foundation, Guardian Angels, Paws in Redlands, Rock The Paws Foundation, Pet Scene in Yucaipa, and private citizens. The three organizations plan to continue their efforts to collect and distribute supplies with those affected by the fire through the recovery process.

YAPS is located at 11937 13th Street in Yucaipa and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 790-1440.

Daisy’s Hope Foundation will also hold its monthly pet food distribution on Oct. 31 at 195 N Del Rosa in San Bernardino, from 10 a.m. to noon.

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